Several years ago I was invited to attend a meeting of First Nations chiefs and elders on Vancouver Island. I knew I would be one of only two or three non-Aboriginals in attendance but I didn’t expect to be immediately invited to introduce myself to the group. Not being very familiar with their culture and knowing nothing of the norms of the group I thought I should keep it as short as I could – speaking my name, saying a couple of things about my professional identity, mentioning how honoured I was to be invited to meet with them, and then sitting down. As soon as I was finished a man to my right in the circle stood up and began to speak. First he told us about his grandfather on his mother’s side – why he was named as he was and two or three hilariously funny stories about his life. Then he drifted into stories about his grandmother, and about her family. Then he did the same for his grandparents on his father’s side. This led to stories about his father and mother, his uncles and aunts, then his siblings. This went on for about 15 minutes before he said that he felt his ancestors were with us in the room. Others nodded in agreement. He then sat down and the person to the other side of him stood and began to do much the same. Her story went on for nearly 20 minutes. She wept as she told stories about her ancestors and laughed with delight as she spoke of her grandchildren. Then she expressed her sense of the presence of the ancestors and sat down. Then the next person rose to his feet and did much the same. And so it continued for 2 hours. Finally finishing this introductory part of the meeting, we broke for coffee and the man to my right spoke to me. He said he was glad I was there but, with a twinkle in his eye, he asked if I didn’t have any family.
I have learned a great deal from my First Nations friends – one of those being how incomplete my story is without putting it in the context of those whose lives are interwoven with mine. Having said something about my parents (see My Journey), it is time, therefore, to introduce my wife because my story really is our story.
I met Juliet in my first week of my third year of undergraduate studies at McMaster University, one week after she arrived on campus from Trinidad in the West Indies. I was the President of a campus club and was presiding over the opening meeting with a guest lecturer we had brought from New York. Introducing the guest to the group of several hundred people, I suddenly spotted this incredibly stunning young woman enter the back of the room. She was petit with delicate features, long black hair, and a shy but very warm smile. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her! The lecture seemed to go on for ever. And then I had to moderate questions from the audience, desperately hoping that she wouldn’t leave before the discussion ended. I ended it as soon as I reasonably could and, after racing to the back of the hall, introduced myself. She told me her name was Juliet. Instantly, I knew I was to be her Romeo. I asked her if I could walk her back to her residence. She seemed a bit taken aback, but agreed. I was on cloud nine! I saw her every day for the next 6 weeks when I asked her to marry me. She accepted and we were married two years later.
My journey over the years since meeting Juliet has been profoundly shaped by her. No where is this more true than in terms of my spiritual journey because, in the simplest terms, we journeyed together. This hasn’t meant that we did not have separate journeys. In terms of a worldview, she didn’t have as far to come as me because she was raised in a liberal Presbyterian Church in Trinidad. And, she was always more spiritually open and attuned than I was. I, on the other hand, have probably been intellectually more open and inquisitive than she. This kept me restless, always wanting to understand issues from a broader or alternate perspective, something that at times must have been quite annoying for her when she was more content just to enjoy wherever she was at the moment. But as we grew more deeply into our life together I learned from her, just as she says she also did from me.
Juliet was the first to pursue training in spiritual direction and the process of this training stretched her but was tremendously rich. She choose to be trained within the framework of Ignatian spirituality and part of this included her undertaking the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. I was envious as I saw how much this deepened her ways of opening herself to God, but I was also frightened of throwing myself into the same process. I felt that her training as an artist – she had taught art in High School and worked as a professional calligrapher – and her boundless creativity made it easier for her to bring her senses and imagination to the Divine encounter in the way that Ignatian spirituality encouraged. I told her I was afraid that I simply couldn’t do what I had witnessed her having to do in the daily meditations that she had undertaken for the year it took for her to complete the Exercises. I told her I was sure I’d fail. And she told me that this was exactly why I needed to do it. Shortly after this I began my own journey through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and quickly discovered that I did indeed have great trouble with the meditative process it encouraged. But, more important, she was right about the spiritual value of the frustration and sense of failure this involved.
She was also the first to move deeply into the contemplative dimensions of the spiritual journey. She began to go away for silent retreats and would come back home and share how much she learned from spending a week in solitude and stillness. I was intrigued by the places to which it was obviously leading her but in the early days my interest in silence and stillness was more intellectual and theoretical. My excuses about being too busy were, of course, simply my fear of what I would encounter in stillness. But I couldn’t resist for long and soon I followed Juliet on these contemplative paths and the rewards were equally transformational.
Our work together grew out of this. Juliet had been working for a number of years as a docent in an art gallery, teaching people how to look at and engage with art. This was also a component of her work in spiritual direction where she used art as an aid to prayer and as a tool to facilitate awareness, awakening and contemplative presence. Listening to my lectures, she would often tell me that they were too conceptually heavy and needed more space for contemplative reflection. But I couldn’t really figure out how to do this. She said she would be willing to provide a meditation on a piece of art that offered a perspective on whatever issue I was talking about. We agreed to give it a try. People loved it for once again the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words proved true. I would share my thousand (or so!) words and she would follow this with a guided contemplative engagement with a work of art. Both hemispheres were now involved and quickly I noticed that people not only got the point of whatever I was trying to say but got much more and got it more deeply. Leading retreats together was the natural next step to this. I talk on concepts related to my books and she leads meditations on works of art that move those concepts from head to heart. It is no exaggeration to say that working together in these ways has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Juliet’s book, Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer, gives some idea of how she works with art and uses it in her own workshops and retreats, as well as in work we continue to do together.
But my journey has also been profoundly shaped by our son – Sean. There are so many things I would never have had the same rich opportunity to learn had Juliet and I not been blessed by the gift of parenthood. Despite teaching courses in developmental psychology for many years and writing several books on the topic, everything important that I know about child development I learned from him. But, of much more significance, so much of what I learned about living and about healthy spirituality I have learned from and with him. Over the years he has been my motorcycle travelling companion, my scuba dive-buddy, my first-mate on our sailboat, and even my colleague as I now serve as a consulting psychologist to his company.
The learning and excitement of sharing a life journey within a family continues and now includes Sean’s partner, Heather. Sean and Heather live in Lima, Peru. Sean is a Manager with G Adventures, a global adventure tourism company, and Heather is an entrepreneurial consultant and coach who sometimes designs web sites (this one included). Juliet and I divide our time between Lima and Victoria (British Columbia, Canada).